Fashion & Beauty

PHOENIX Needs You

PHOENIX What would your ideal magazine website look like? Why do you visit sites associated with print magazines? How do you connect with mags on social? And what would bring you back to a fashion and culture site again and again, every day, like a drooling, toothless glossy-mag meth-head?

I am delighted to have been appointed Digital Editor for PHOENIX Magazine. I've been Features Editor for our print edition for the past three years, and now I have the opportunity to redefine everything we do online, including a full web redesign and overhaul of our social media strategy. I'd love you to tell me what you want.

PHOENIX is an independent, London-based quarterly magazine which brings the perspective back to fashion and culture. Perspective in the sense of an intelligent and witty view on a breathless industry; and perspective in the sense of taking a stand, having an opinion and promoting quality and originality in all its forms. In short, cutting-edge creativity from some of the best writers, stylists, designers, artists, photographers, actors and musicians around.

As someone who is both a paper-sniffing, hardback-reading traditionalist, and a tech-licking, Kindle-touting geek, I want PHOENIX to be the place where we can reconcile both extremes of our twenty-first century appetites. So, while our quarterly print magazine is the spirit of PHOENIX - the place where you can shut out the world, mix a negroni and luxuriate over deeply delicious shoots, features and interviews - the website will become the place where you can live like a PHOENIX every day, via short, visual, real-time nuggets of inspiration and opinion. Premium espresso shots for the mind, body and soul, if you will.

Social media is the beating heart of PHOENIX digital. Hell, I want to do as little work as possible; you're the ones who know where the everyday gold lies. My dream is to build a community of brilliant people who embody the PHOENIX attitude, sharing ways in which we can cut through the same old anodyne bullshit and rise above the rest in what we wear, read, watch, visit, do, listen to and buy.

So talk to me. Let me know what you want. Who you want. Where you want it. How you want to be involved. Leave a comment here, connect with me on Twitter, drop me an email.

Oh, and did I mention that you can buy our latest issue, SUNSHINE & SHOWERS, online right now? Oh look, I just did. You know what to do.

A Perfect Fit?

A Perfect Fit? Last spring, our editor became a runner. Not a sashay-in-St-James’s-Park sort of runner, but a proper, no-fags-and-booze, marathon-by-April semi-athlete. Naturally, PHOENIX HQ shone with pride (and a fair amount of shock).

Using her story as a springboard for a feature for this issue – an issue that just so happens to coincide with a certain historic international sporting event taking place in our hometown – seemed a no-brainer. An editor’s education? From Lacroix to Lucozade?

But there was ambivalence when the idea was initially touted to the team. High fashion, the consensus went, is just a little lofty for pedestrian tales of protein shakes and nipple rub; fashion students are too busy with all-day appliqué and all-night raves to bother with keep-fit clichés. And that ambivalence, of course, is where the real story lies. Because, from crinolines to body con, the fashion industry has had a rocky relationship with health and fitness for centuries.

So we decided to investigate what is really happening behind the fashion scenes in the wake of London’s Olympic year. Are we still a bunch of chain-smoking anorexics? Or are we now clean, lean Marc Jacobs-style machines? If a healthy lifestyle is all about moderation, can the extremist diva that is fashion ever truly subscribe?

A Perfect Fit?

Zero to hero

One thing is certain: our editor is not the only one changing her spots.

“In my experience, over the past 15 years there’s been a change of attitude in the fashion crowd,” says Matt Roberts, the London-based personal trainer whose clients include Tom Ford, Naomi Campbell and John Galliano.

“If you look at anyone in big business – finance and politics as well as fashion – there’s no doubt that you now have to be seen as healthy, fit and energised. People are more productive in their workouts, more focused on their diet and generally much more aware of themselves in a very competitive marketplace.”

James Duigan, whose clients include Elle Macpherson, Jennifer Lawrence and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley, agrees.

“Fifteen years ago,” he explains, “personal training wasn’t a proper job. It was Mr Motivator; a joke. But now so many people in fashion have a trainer. We train a lot of the editors and assistants at Vogue, maybe two at the same time, and they namedrop who they train with.”

This may come as a big surprise to those used to associating fashion with salads, cigarettes and cocaine. “The overwhelming trend in fashion has been about being thin,” admits Roberts. “There’s still an idea that not eating, or quick-fix weight loss is the answer. In that sense fashion has been slower than other industries.”

But the trainers themselves are becoming experts in producing a ‘fashion’ look. “We are careful,” Duigan agrees. “When you’re training someone who has half a million dollars riding on their appearance you can’t get it wrong. I know how they need to look, and you can do it in a healthy way.”

Freeze frame

But before we all clink our glasses of coconut water and jog off to the shops, it’s clear that the situation is a little more complex than this. In reality, improvements in the fashion industry’s approach only serve to throw its lingering contradictions into even starker relief.

For example, fashion has a deep-rooted aesthetic of immobility that still holds fast to our imaginations today. “A detailed examination of what passes in popular apprehension for elegant apparel,” wrote the American sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1912, “will show that it is contrived at every point to convey the impression that the wearer does not habitually put forth any useful effort. […] The substantial reason for our tenacious attachment to the skirt is just this: it is expensive and it hampers the wearer at every turn.”

One hundred years later, our most coveted clothes still imply louche inactivity, whether through luxurious fabrics (silk, lace, embellishment) or directional street styles (flatforms, maxi shoulders, palazzo pants). Daphne Guinness stumbling her way around London in a pair of McQueen Armadillos is not so different from a shuffling bound-footed Chinese concubine; Botox, whether injected to eliminate wrinkles or sweat, is a chilling exemplar of the continuing hold of this static feminine ideal.

Health and fitness are still not a comfortable part of fashion’s public visual discourse, and a dash of ‘post-workout glow’ Nars Orgasm or a piece of ‘luxe sportswear’ – try actually hitting a backhand in an Alexander Wang mesh leather T-shirt – cannot change that essential truth.

Tortured artists

Moreover, if you examine how fashion’s top power players actually approach fitness, it’s a confusing and not entirely appealing melange.

Who is a better role model? Alber Elbaz, whose beautifully dressed bulk hints at a refreshing everyman disregard for industry dictates, but whose constant self-deprecating confessions about carbs suggest quite the opposite? The plastic not-so-fantastic look of Donatella Versace and Karl Lagerfeld? What about poor messed-up Galliano, whose extreme workouts failed to save him from extreme substance abuse and mental decline?

Or the new fashion/health poster boy Marc Jacobs, whose three-hour-daily gym binges and goji-noni-acai superdiets have all the obsessive evangelism of a drug addict-turned-endorphin junkie?

“I think very creative people have short attention spans and low boredom thresholds,” Roberts explains. “Opting for extreme measures for a short period of time appeals to their psyches. I’ve dealt with a lot of fashion designers who have gone for that approach, working out for several hours a day and attacking it hard, but then falling off the wagon because it’s not sustainable. It’s like a different sort of addiction, big highs and lows.”

Ayurveda guru ‘Yogi Cameron’, aka Cameron Alborzian, used to be one of the top male models in the world, gracing Vogue covers and Madonna music videos. He agrees that the fashion industry tends towards extremes. “It’s a very either/or culture. Models tend to vary between being smokers and drinkers to being extremely health-conscious.”

Inevitably, the image of the tortured and hedonistic artist remains much more beguiling than the Pilates fan who gets his five a day. But Duigan believes that stereotype is wearing thin.

“Speaking frankly, being unhealthy and feeling miserable and being on a drug and alcohol rollercoaster gets boring really quickly. Dude, you know what? Clean up. Go for a jog. You might even be a bit more interesting.”

A Perfect Fit?

Personal brands

Fashion folk’s struggle to find balance can be attributable to factors other than creative temperament. One is simple logistics. “When I was a model back in the 90s, I went out, stayed up late, and travelled constantly,” Cameron admits. “The body at 20 takes the hits much better than at 40. Maintaining health while on the road is a hard thing to do no matter what business you are in.”

Another is that old villain, class. Admitting that your streamlined figure comes from Fitness First and Whole Foods rather than excellent breeding and nanny’s macaroons or, at the other extreme, humble poverty and a diet of work and fags, is still deeply uncool. A ‘healthy lifestyle’ is just so middle class, and middle class is perennially the least fashionable thing to be.

But in a highly competitive marketplace, this very British attitude – part embarrassment, part arrogance – won’t wash for long. American fashionistas have always been loud and proud about the work it takes to look good, from LA’s juice-swilling gym bunnies to New York’s groomed Bikram queens. And Matt Roberts believes that the future will come from further afield.

“There are some amazing fashion designers coming out of the Far East and they are hugely ambitious and hard working both in terms of their products and themselves. We have to realise that people want to buy into a brand and that the designer is part of that brand. There’s a whole Eastern culture about meticulous presentation. In this country we’re in severe danger of falling behind.”

Role models

This social media-fuelled emergence of designers, editors, models, make-up artists, hell, even interns, as brands in themselves explains why any of this matters in the first place. People who work in fashion are becoming as influential as the clothes; and the moment that teenage girls – the fastest growing group for obesity in Europe – get interested in fashion tends to coincide with the moment that gym knickers lose their appeal.

“Around that age boys are idolising footballers but there’s no one girls see as a strong fitness role model,” Roberts sighs. “That is where I think fashion could play a part. I was really pleased to see that Stella [McCartney] is doing the designs for this year’s Olympic clothing. It doesn’t mean people who buy the products will do the exercise, but it does create a link. Fashion has a role to play in making girls stay interested in health.”

And as for our editor? She smashed her personal best for the marathon; she looks better than ever in her Choos; she’s back on the cocktails; and she got the last issue out (just) on time. Perhaps fashion is capable of cleaning up its act – without compromising its spirit – after all.

This feature originally appeared in PHOENIX magazine. Illustrations are by the awesome Artaksiniya.

Fashion's New Wild Child

With the Paris autumn/winter 2012 couture collections still fresh in our minds, fashion has rarely looked so, well, civilized. From Raf Simon’s debut at Dior, which paired classic silhouettes from the house’s 50s heyday with modern cutaways and neon pops, to Karl Lagerfeld’s demurely nostalgic suits in glittering blush tweed, the designers reminded us that, at this most artisanal level, fashion is all about taking the raw human beast and turning it into a construction of beauty.

And then we turn to the street, and find that here fashion has rarely looked so, well, savage. Animal print, clunky tribal beads, lion motifs, great digitally enhanced lilies splashed across a body con slip. Inspired by the previous season’s catwalk hits – Giles’s furry jackets, Givenchy panther hats, Chloe snakeskin sheaths and kaleidoscopic hothouse blooms from Mary Katrantzou, Erdem and even minimalist Jil Sander – we’ve gone wild for the wild.

None more so than Negar Bahardoust, the young Iranian-born, London-based designer whose label Queen of the Wild has been turning heads in Canada’s luxury department store Holt Renfrew, Oxford Fashion Week, and Vogue Italia.

“I believe we’ve become too much of an industrialised nation,” Bahardoust explains. “We’re getting further and further away from nature and our true selves. That’s why I think a lot of designers are trying to go back into the wild for their inspiration and research.”

Bahardoust’s designs team strong, modern prints inspired by tropical plants, jungle landscapes and wild flowers with top-end Italian silk. From sleek pencil skirts to jumpsuits, drape dresses to bustiers, her silhouettes feel joyously Glamazon after the recent glut of pastels and demure forties shapes. Colours are saturated; reds and yellows prevail. These are clothes for a woman who wants to move, and wants people to watch her do it; a spirit which chimes with Bahardoust’s own nomadic lifestyle.

“I always feel freer when I’m travelling,” she admits. “That’s when the wild side of me comes out more. There have been quite a lot of adventures in my life up to now, but I can say one of the memorable ones was being in a gondola in the middle of water in Venice with a complete stranger looking at the sky at 4am. I’ve done solo skydiving too. I felt really happy flying down. It was such an amazing experience, I hope to have the guts to do it again.”

The wild is, quite obviously, no new trend. Adorning ourselves with the same things that animals and plants use to attract mates– bright colours, high contrasts, extravagant shapes, textured skins, dangling trims and glittering baubles – remains the most basic fashion no-brainer. However refined the palette or cut, you can find a feral reference in any piece of clothing; the things which hide and reveal our bodies cannot help but engage with those wildest of realities, sex and death.

But at the moment, it feels particularly right. Fed up with the interminable sensible, versatile investment pieces offered as panaceas to economic strife, not to mention newly empowered by a fierce and muscled Olympic spirit, we’re more than ready to let our hair down a bit.

When it comes to iconic wild women, Bahardoust loves Bjork and Juliet Lewis; with designers, she admires Altuzarra’s quintessential power dressing looks. But she’s non-prescriptive in her definition of what wild fashion is. “I think whatever a person feels comfortable and confident in will make her sexy,” she insists, “whether it’s hot pants or fully covered long dress. From my own collection I always feel great when wearing the printed silk jumpsuit.” Living in London, her typical climate is more urban drizzle than rainforest, but she still manages to find the odd nature fix. “I love a boat ride in the canal and half a day in Hampstead Heath always recharges my batteries.”

So dump those clichéd little-girl florals and flash your best predatory smile. This summer, it’s time for the wild things to come out and play.

This feature originally appeared in Futurespace

 

PHOENIX | Where Talent Rises

What are you wearing? What proportion of it is black, white, cream, grey, navy, camel, nude or beige? Be honest, now. Here's a little snippet from 'Basic Instinct', my feature in the latest issue of PHOENIX which examines the chromatic quirks of the fash pack.

The lust was palpable. As London’s designers – young and old, established and raw, buttoned-up and bold - paraded their vision for spring/summer 2012, the imaginations of a monochrome, wind-chilled audience sprouted a rainbow.

Jewel tones normally reserved for autumn shone on in Roksanda Ilincic’s fuchsia and gold structured dresses and Mark Fast’s ruby and garnet skirt suits. Meadham Kirchoff and Richard Nicoll tapped the sweeter end of the spectrum with kitsch, sugary pastels. Peter Pilotto’s Indonesian prints blossomed in a tropical kaleidoscope of greens, pinks, blues and yellows, while Antonio Berardi employed a dramatic scarlet note with Valentino-esque aplomb.

So why, then, will the majority of that enraptured audience, clad like a murder of expensive crows, fail to buy a single item that veers this side of charcoal? And why will so many of the rest of us drool over rich dyes in magazines and then compromise on a lighter shade of ebony in the shop? At both Net-a-Porter and eBay, the volume of black clothes, shoes and accessories bought and sold is higher than for any other colour, regardless of the season; so bitching about fashion folk’s penchant for the dark side is pot-kettlery of the highest order.

It all begs the simple question: why do so few of us wear colour well?

If you haven't already stumbled upon it at London Fashion Week, PHOENIX is a quarterly print magazine that represents all that is young, rising and provocative in London's fashion and culture scenes. Our sixth issue is about everything bespoke, handcrafted and personal, and PHOENIX's new website has also just launched, with everything from a gorgeous original fashion shoot 'Post Modernists', to to a feature on social fashion apps, to an interview with London mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita.

Imagine that a sexy fashion version of Wired marries New Scientist and has an aspirational affair with The New Yorker, and you have an idea of what we're aiming for. Ambitious? Maybe. But we're going to have a hell of a lot of fun trying.

This is my second issue as features editor, and I'm really proud of how PHOENIX is evolving. It's a privilege to work with the likes of high editrix and wordqueen Hannah Kane; creative director Leigh Keily; fashion editor Rebekah Roy; beauty editor Lan Nyguyen; music editor Kate Nash and books editor Abigail Tarttelin. Click through and get to know them; these aren't just young, hard-working creatives at the peak of their game, they're wonderfully down to earth and unpretentious people with a passion for producing something heartfelt, witty and intelligent in what can be a rather po-faced industry.

We'd love you to help us improve and grow. One way is by subscribing or buying a copy and then submitting all your feedback and ideas for what and who we should be talking about - here, through Twitter, or on our blog. But you could also become part of PHOENIX. I'm looking to showcase seriously superior young writing talent so if you have a pitch for a feature online or in the print issue, get in touch.

Oh, and if you're wondering, right now I am wearing a pair of bright coral Uniqlo jeans. Screw black. Spring is in the air.

 

Silk And The City

It’s whispering down the catwalk at Somerset House for London Fashion Week. It’s caressed by every tourist nipping into Liberty’s for an iconic paisley scarf.  And it’s the star of the current exhibition at the V&A, in the form of a shimmering golden cape that took 1.2 million Madagascan spiders, eight years and a team of expert handloom weavers to create.

Silk is undeniably associated with elitism, elegance and expense. But according to biological engineer Fiorenzo Omenetto, it is in fact “the ancient material of the future”. In his brilliant TED Talk, Omenetto demonstrates how this “sustainable natural Kevlar” can be used to create holograms, optical fibres, dissolvable body implants, microneedles and LED tattoos. Far from being a heritage fabric, he believes that this “new old material could profoundly impact high technology, material science, medicine and global health.”

Silk’s ability to weave together the past and the future is beautifully evident at the Golden Spider Silk exhibition, which exemplifies the coming together of traditional extraction and weaving techniques with the bold vision of British textile artist Simon Peers and US designer entrepreneur Nicholas Godley. The cape itself could equally be a Madagascan antique or the latest piece of McQueen couture.

Indeed, the ancient silk industry has helped to shape modern London. But the history of silk and the city is one of violence, folly and persecution that belies the fabric’s refined image.

Silkworms, silk goods and the skills of sericulture first came to Europe thanks to a series of brutal conquests of Asia and Persia, from sixth century Romans, seventh century Arabs and medieval Crusaders in turn. France and Italy quickly developed strong silk industries, but our island lagged behind. And so in 1609 the aesthete king, James I, attempted to develop a native sericulture in England, by purchasing and planting 100,000 mulberry trees, partly on a plot beside his own Hampton Court. Unfortunately, James had ordered the black variety. Silk worms feed off white mulberry leaves. The experiment failed.

It wasn’t until 1681, when Charles II offered sanctuary to the Huguenots being oppressed by the Catholic Louis IX, that London really embraced silk. The trickle of French refugees became a river when, in 1685 Louis XIV, revoked the Edict of Nantes, forcing all remaining Huguenots to convert to Catholicism or face persecution.  From 1670 to 1710, 40-50,000 Huguenots, many of them wealthy and highly skilled weavers, sought refuge across the channel.

Most of them headed to Spitalfields, which became the centre of London’s silk trade, otherwise known as ‘weaver’s town’. East London was an ideal destination for the new arrivals, as food and accommodation was cheap, and the area was relatively free from the strict economic control wielded elsewhere by the guilds. By 1700 there were nine Huguenot churches in Spitalfields alone.

Once you know what to look for, it is hard to wander around modern Spitalfields without seeing the shadow of those French silkmen everywhere.

CONTINUE READING AT LONDON CALLING...

Wearable Art

Investment pieces: we all know the theory. On a personal level, the interminable recession is forcing us to reassess our throwaway attitude to fashion. As tempting as we find the new Versace diffusion range for H&M, we know we should be shelling out for an immaculately and ethically made Stella McCartney cashmere coat rather than stockpiling scraps of sweatshop jersey.

On a global level, we’re realising that our consumer greed has real consequences. Two episodes into the BBC’s Frozen Planet, and the image of David Attenborough pulling a not-angry-but-disappointed face has started popping into our heads every time we reach for a Primark blouse. Nowadays, a legacy of pesticide-drenched land, energy-eating factories and polyester waste mountains just doesn’t feel sexy.

But the idea that we should only adorn our bodies with beautiful, well-crafted and mindfully produced garments isn’t just about redistributing cash from the high street to couture; it is ushering in a whole new hybrid industry. What do you get when you combine fashion with sculpture, exclusivity with accessibility and environmental awareness with financial sense? Welcome to the world of ‘wearable art’.

Artists and architects across the globe are increasingly applying their skills to clothes. We get unique, ethical statement pieces that work as both instant hit and heirloom; they get mainstream exposure and the challenge of adapting their art form to the unruly dynamism of the human body.

CONTINUE READING AT FUTURESPACE...

The Fashion Week Virgin

For a London Fashion Week virgin, the first time you pass between the columns that mark the entrance to Somerset House – swapping the everyday bustle of the Strand for the highly charged, otherworldly microcosm within – can feel rather surreal, like you’ve suddenly stepped behind the scenes of a favourite film.

Fashion week has become an idea as much as an experience; an emotive amalgam of artistic extravagance, commercial ambition, and political and social discourse. Every year, it explodes into our collective consciousness through media old and new in a jumble of images and headlines, each with their own pointed agenda. One moment the whole merry-go-round is about race, the next about class, the next about anorexia; rarely is it about a pair of really nice shoes. Now, thanks to tech-savvy innovators such as Burberry, anyone with a decent Wi-Fi connection can curate their own edited version of LFW through tweets, livestreams, photos and videos, and broadcast their version to the world in a feeding frenzy of online opinion-mongering. For an event accused of elitism, LFW is seriously public property.

So it can come as a bit of a shock to actually be there, physically immersed in the low-def pedestrian reality of what is essentially a very famous trade show.

CONTINUE READING AT PHOENIX...

Whisper It

Was there ever a word more onomatopoeic than silk? It is a tease: a sliding touch followed by a flick, a breath that ends in a kiss. It is an emblem of mystery, this product of metamorphosis teased from the closed microworld of a cocoon. It speaks of stockings whispering under hobble skirts and medieval merchants with hooded eyess. It speaks of courtly scandals, slippery seducers and sheathed knives: softness masking bite. No wonder Anthony Horowitz's much-anticipated new Sherlock Holmes novel is called The House of Silk.

It is also one of the coolest, most complex and potentially game-changing bits of technology ever to have come out of nature's lab, as Fiorenzo Omenetto explains:

This week I wore a new silk blazer I had splashed out on as an investment piece; it was like a superhero skin. I acquired magic powers. I was an eleven foot tall amazon, and the most delicate little scrap of femininity you've ever seen waft past the corner of your eye. As Jane Birkin put it:

My mother was right: When you've got nothing left, all you can do is get into silk underwear and start reading Proust.

That sounds like a plan for a good weekend, if you replace Proust with the latest issue of Delayed Gratification, and maybe add a little dish of asparagus (watch the melted butter; it burns).

London Fashion Geek

Oh, Lord. It's tweets like this that make Getting Things Done very hard indeed.

I'd love to convey the impression that I am spending London Fashion Week dashing from show to show in a blue turban and some dreamy spring floral crops; touting a Mulberry stuffed with raw almonds, a vial of Absinth by Nasumatto and a personalised Moleskine sketchbook; and frowning charmingly as I decide whether Todd Lynn's smooth, slippy monochrome leather layers evoke luxe Zen-villain chic or wipe-clean human condoms.

On the other hand, I'd settle for suggesting that I'm out saving the world in home-made dungarees with fair-trade children and organic scientists, disdaining this seasonal circus of obsessive-compulsives, anorexics and elitists that makes women believe that their greatest achievement in life would be to make like a neon giraffe in a pair of Christopher Kane's Sunny D-meets-liquorice-lace heels.

I am, of course, not cool enough for either. Despite being a compulsive observer and intellectualiser of fashion who rarely gets to wear a designer stitch, I still love LFW's whole riotous wankstorm of pseudo-political aspirational creativity and craftsmanship. I am a classic couture Cinderella who ogles the action on my laptop (and even my tube journey) while styling my Uniqlo jeans with a new chartreuse belt just in case the sreet style facehunters mistake me for someone going to the ball.

And I'm happy enough with the scraps of beauty I can scavenge via video, image and overheated, Americanised reportage. One day, I might get to experience the atmosphere, to study the seams and smell the sweat for real. Until then, I hover at the edges of the fashion fairytale and steal what magic I can.

Which, this season, mainly involves moving beyond my usual dove-grey, dusky-pink, nude and dulce-de-leche layers (I think ethereal; you see anaemia) towards rich grown-up colour (all hail Roksanda Ilincic's bronze goddess) and touch-me texture (from Julien MacDonald's feather and fur to Christopher Kane's glimmering aqueous plastic);  I've definitely been inspired ditch the Black Swan ballerina and cultivate some true grit.

Clothes maketh the woman, and the woman (when she feeleth good in her clothes) goeth oneth to maketh great things.

Shallow doesn't come into it.

The Perfect Soap

Who doesn’t love a big squirt of cream on their chest in the morning?

Well, nowadays we don’t have much choice. Like so much in life, showering has become a hypersexualised ritual: saturated with talismanic brand names, swollen with images of orgasmic joy, and accessorised with a full arsenal of props, lubricants and specialist techniques. Whether we slather our limbs in gel, lather our skin with foam, slide oil into every cranny, or luxuriate in that suspiciously spelled and ambiguously accented substance known as crème, we’re forced to indulge in a linguistic smorgasbord of suggestiveness before we’ve popped our first Berocca of the day.

It isn’t just the textures. With their synthetic super-sweetness, their sensual blends and relaxing essences and milk-and-honey utopianism, these ablutive elixirs are engineered to send us off into Soho stinking like a scratch-n-sniff sex doll. Hints of the corporeal must be hidden at all costs. The slightest hint of mammalian musk must be masked by a shining chemical varnish of seashore or applemint or blossoming lily. Skin is the enemy; vanilla and acai berry the evolutionary apogee.

But hang on. Tugging at a corner of the Matrix, I seem to remember another way: a childhood bathroom uncluttered by those flamingoid bottles with their sinister hanging hooks and gummed-up lids. Instead, I recall a handful of solidity; a firm pat, a simple chunk, a scentless slab of clean, rubbed with vigorous love onto hunched and protesting shoulder blades.

Soap! Whatever happened to soap? Whither humble soap in this orgy of Cocamidopropyl betaine and Benzophenone-4? To the nunnery, that’s where. Soap isn’t just old rope. Soap is actively frowned upon in our sophisticated cosmetic age. Soap is impotence, the maiden aunt of the bodycare aisle. It is tar. It is coal. It is Victorian workhouses and pig fat and Gradgrind washing out your gob.

Nevertheless, recently my skin has started to rebel against the moisture-stripping multisyllables of modern shower gel. My sister mentioned that good old soap was the way to go. And oh, my friends, it so is.

Of course, there are limits. Flim-flammish Gen Y floozie that I am, I can’t quite bring myself to love the star of those buried childhood memories, my father’s austere Imperial Leather, despite that pleasing little red label begging to be peeled from the slippery bar. No, I want something gentle, something pure, an additive-free ur-soap that will lather me in virgin virtue every dawn.

And I found it. The lovely Andrea of Victoria Regia makes hand-milled Castille soap from 100% organic olive oil and crafts bespoke blends using essential oils. I am currently working my way through my very own flowery (orange, lime and ylang-ylang), energising (orange, rosemary, ginger and myrrh) and spicy (orange, cedarwood and cinnamon) bars and already feel the glow coming back to my cosmetically raped skin. They come beautifully packaged, too. Soap. Perfect. Who knew? I’m off to get wet.

The perfect tan

Yes, we know.

The perfect tan is of course an untan; a snowy and virgin dermis unpenetrated by UVs A or B; a triumph of health over vanity and of the science-sated super-ego over the Barbie-basted id. Any sensible girl should team her digital-dreamy Peter Pilloto prints with an ivory parasol, in a chic little homage to the new My Fair Lady film, and emulate the pale, English-rose sweetness of its rumoured star, Carey Mulligan.

Should. Very much, in the light of the many authoritative and rightfully scary skin cancer campaigns out there, should.

But this is a familiar battleground for the female species: Sane vs Thin. Because tanning quite simply makes us look thinner. We may claim that we love that ‘healthy glow’, that ‘athletic sheen’, the blemish-veiling, teeth-whitening, Ralph Lauren vigour of it all, but really we’re just thinking: Mmmm. Thinner thighs. Those toxic rays shade our buried bones and puny muscles in a way no amount of bronzer contouring can. They hit the spots – collarbone, cleavage, abs, biceps, shins – that help every one of us celebrate the nascent Macpherson under our tired, grey, dimpled, over-insulated skin.

Tanning is part of a long and respected heritage of century-spanning stupidity – starving; vomiting; enforced pooing; cross-country running; lung-annihilating corsetry; purchasing patronising, overpriced, pink and purple paperbacks with manic-eyed, gauntly grinning women in leotards on the front – dedicated to the holy grail of walking into work and being told you need to eat a biscuit, because you look ill.

This is a very serious matter, of course, representative of deep-rooted social, political, psychological, physiological and economic forces that conspire to keep women quietly stirring a vat of cayenne pepper and maple syrup in the Enchanted Tower of Childlike Self-Limitation while mankind gets on with fun, but it’s also just dumb. And I do it. I always cover myself with a thick rind of Factor 30, but I still watch my cheekbones freckle and my moles darken with glee. In my head, all I can see are those scary, blotchy UV-scans of prematurely aged women, but all I can think is: Mmmm. Thinner thighs.

I’ve never been a fake tan girl, of course. That simply smacks of vanity.

I know.

But all hope is not lost. This month, I discovered Xen-Tan, and loathe as I am to promote something already stupidly over-publicised, this stuff is easy, effective, and smells like pudding. Nice creamy orangey pudding. Which I can happily eat, because my thighs look well, at least one creamy orangey pudding thinner than they did last month.

Perfect.

Easy does it

Age thirteen, I scored 'I want to die' on the flat slate roof outside my window with a pointy stone. Inside, Jeff Buckley keened, muffled by my teddy-bear's-picnic curtains. My first bra hung from the bedpost, donned in secret midnight moments for the thrilling (though redundant) embrace of elastic around ribcage.  I had a diary. I had two.

"The adolescent quest for meaning", says the rather splendid Russell M Davies in this month's Wired, "has been inflated into a culture-spanning genre... The significant is driving out the light." Citing Avatar and X-Factor as examples of our current appetite for overblown emotion, symbol-laden narrative and exhaustive length, Davies suggests that this need by creators to appear earnest, important and substantial is driven by the apparent flimsyness of our content-spewing online lives.

Like him, it makes me long for "the bright, clever and quick", particularly now spring has (weakly, knock-kneedly) sprung. How To Train Your Dragon is suddenly more appealing than Girl With A Dragon Tattoo. My subgoth black tights, jade nails and clumpersome heels are being thrown over for Valentino-style featherweight silk pastels and crème caramel flats, perfect for lamblike gambolling.

I'm going to see Grace Kelly. And I can't wait to get to the end of the new Sebastian Faulks.

Oh, it's good, of course. It's beautifully written, and full of needling little humour-pricks and shivering moments of sun-touched articulation. But it's also terribly concerned with reminding us how aimless, anchorless and loveless our internet-obsessed and bank-buggered era is, adding a plasticky, preachy layer of didacticism entirely absent from Faulks' previous works, which always undeniably have Something Very Important to say, but wear their complexity lightly, like Chanel SS10 couture.

It's strange that, although A Week in December tackles his most contemporary timescale yet, it makes Faulks seem more old-fashioned than any of his historical works. Railing against his own world, he seems a grumpy old man more than the wry, compassionate, fleet-eyed observer of yore.

In writing my novel (to be said very quietly, and with a pained grimace) this over-meaningfulness is a temptation I have to fight against every time I put finger to key, paralleled with a Masterchefian tendency to  'put too much on the plate'; and it is not helped by the fact that I am writing about an adolescent boy, and therefore immersed in his epic, angsty interiority.

A light touch is not shallow or lazy, but requires incredible discipline. It's much harder and more grown up than extravagant doing.

So today, lets all shuck the baggage and emulate the puck. Ease is not innocence.

Costume drama

A set of armour, a pair of red shoes, a charcoal dressing-gown: my cultural week has been spent crouched inside a wardrobe, hangers clacking with memory and desire. Giving up shopping since Christmas has been a welcome release, allowing me to appreciate beautiful clothes without constantly holding the mental template of my ass against their weave; but I knew the backlash was due.

First there was Burton's Alice, a strangely underpowered affair for all its rich sepia strangeness. Despite the 3D, it's flat. Good old H-B-C does her best to get everyone else to come out and play, but most of the other characters, including Aussie Alice and Mad Depp, seem locked behind their own eyes, inward-acting, possibly trying to mine some well of internal atmosphere in the face of the omnipresent blue screen.

Much more vivid are Alice's oversized, undersized, shoulder-slipping, back-baring dresses. I could feel and hear every silk and chiffon shift of those delicious, half-undone things. And when she came on for the climax in full Jabberwocky-slaying kit - a ringer for the knight in Dicksee's La Belle Dame sans Merci - I turned to the Yank and told him that that was what I was going to get married in.

It was an interesting tube journey home.

Next came Promises, Promises, the new ninety-minute monologue from Douglas Maxwell playing at the Soho, and a pair of scarlet patent heels.

Now red shoes have long been a theatrical symbol of menace and sex - it's no wonder that clever Louboutin trademarked that bloody flash of sole, as if to half-promise, half-threaten our transformation into a Dorothy or a Vicky in his wares - but you will rarely see them used with such ambiguous power as they are by Joanna Tope.

As Maggie, a primary school supply teacher asked to tolerate the exorcism of a mute Somali girl in her class, Tope puts in an immaculately paced performance. This  middle-aged, middle-class Scot sways her way through life in ruby heels, her sexual 'holsters' brandished, but gradually fails to mask her inner morass of pride, fear, alcohol and dangerous rage.

That, I thought, was a look crying out for my Hackney local on a Tuesday night.

And finally, last night, I got round to watching A Single Man. Was there ever such a paean to the scratch-soft caress of rigid wool? Those suits; those specs; those windsor knots: this was cinema 4D, full of the dog smell of damp upholstery, the depth of light in a  silver cufflink and the origami physics of a great white shirt.

But it was the dressing gown Firth which wears at the end (and his end) that got me: from the moment he made a tiny, gleeful, self-chastising adjustment to the belt in anticipation of a freshly showered, besotted Nicholas Hoult, I felt a physical hunger for that weighty robe: a heavy-soft marl membrane between self and others, day and night, sex and shame.

So far, on all counts, Asos isn't really coming up trumps. Step up, Ms Atwood; Monsieur Louboutin; Mister Ford. I await your call.

The perfect jeans

Jeans shopping is an odyssey of transformation, illusion and shame.

Despite the well-tested knowledge that this path will bring me no joy, I cannot help but approach Selfridges’ denim wall with a combative nugget of hope lodged in my gut. This season, I’ll conquer all. I’ve read all the articles, pored over the latest looks; I really can overturn the prolonged and crumpled tyranny the boyfriend jean exerts in my life, and reinvent my wardrobe as an Elysian vision of edge, sex and smart.

Things do not start well. Hostile savages from the tribe of fashion, luridly painted, starved and pierced, ignore my attempts to communicate with blank, kohl-eyed disdain. Sweating, squinting at the indecipherable labels, swiping whatever I can find that looks like it might make it past my knees, I retreat, bruised but defiant, to the musk-scented changing cave.

To find the perfect jeans, I know I have to emulate Peleus, and hold on until I find the shape that suits me best – resisting the boredom, the misguided aspiration and the sheer denim blindness that will tempt me into accepting something else.

Ye Gods, it hurts.

For hours, I grapple with that constantly morphing creature that we call the Officially Fashionable Jean. I try to persuade myself that I can carry off a dove-grey drainpipe without looking like a badly-made battleship; that white straight-legs say urban-colonial Hoxton cool, not middle-aged cruisewear; that high-waisted stonewash doesn’t remind me of myself, aged thirteen, in an X-Files T-shirt and a baseball cap. The tipping point comes when I venture towards House of Holland S/S 10 and try a touch of double denim. Forget Alexa Chung chillaxing like a coltish Indiana ingenue in Vogue; I look like her obese cousin from Wisconsin who likes beef jerky and Top Gun.

Face fuchsia, thighs seam-scarred, I skulk out.

The problem is that I expect the jeans themselves to be my hero, the Peleus to my nymph, clinging onto the monstrous bulges and freakish lumps until my lycra-lashed corpse settles into the slender perfection of a goddess. Of course, they always let me down. For jeans may have an easy, casual, authentic, shallow-pocketed, deep-souled-workmen-slouching-on-a-girder, highly sexed Stanley Kowalski vibe, but they actually necessitate such a degree of fraught, frank self-examination that they could turn the most level-headed broad into a shuddering Blanche Dubois.

So, I slink out of Selfridges and down the road to Gap, where I buy my fourth consecutive pair ofankle-length indigo boyfriends. I take them home, roll the bottoms into uneven cuffs, add some heels and head out, into the February mud.

Divinity is overrated.

Any other name

I can smell roses.

Oh, those? Well, yes, those are gorgeous. They're flirting with me right now from the living room table, splaying their petals, winking with dew, projecting that rosy 'tude which is equal parts Atonement-esque doomed innocent to Sunset Boulevard-esque blowsy has-been , inserting their subversive sex-n-death symbolism into the spurious sentiment-fest that is Valentines Day.

But no, that scent isn't coming from them. It's coming from me. It's coming from the Stella on my neck and wrists, the Quinessence Rose Damask toner and Dr Hauschka Rose Day Cream on my face, the D&G Wake Up And Smell The Roses lippie in Scarlett on my pout.

In all honesty, roses basically smell of shit, and I smell of roses: ergo. But I don't care. In fact, the whole reason I revel in their stink like a stray dog rolling in his own crap is because of that half-blasted quality, that dark, dank edge which tempers their sweetness.  Being pale, English, Shakespeare-saturated and wary of cliché, it took me a while to admit to myself that roses were my signature scent, but in truth nothing better captures the savour of a late-twenties life poised between blossom and rot.

I love the attar, the water, the syrup, the jam. I love the putrescent punch of the Musk, the delicate herbal tint of the Tea, the balsamic spice of the Moss and Damask's ancient, sulphurous tang. Whenever I visit my mother's house,  I steal great gloops of her Ren Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil; the hot, lubricious fumes transform me into a narrow-eyed, damp-haired, pink-fleshed slab of human Turkish delight. At the chocolate counter, I am the single customer asking for the rose creams, those coy, kitsch little cups topped with their sugary nipples of pink. I eat them at home, alone; and their powdery, floral, faintly paracetemol taste has all the authentic half-blasted beauty-and-beastliness of the flower herself. I watch the dozen there on the dining room table, smelling more of rose than they do, and they silently mock my attempts to immerse myself in the natural, the transient, the real.

And he thought they just looked nice.

The perfect socks

It was an outfit that whispered sophistication; that grinned naughtiness; that glanced at passing trends with a playfully unovine eye. It combined a soft, oversized white silk T-shirt mini-shift with a bright coral lip, a long sleeved grey silk shirt, a pair of camel suede Oxfords, and a sheet of mussed half-clean hair. And a lot – a lot – of leg. And… oh. Oh dear.

I peered down again, and then quickly back up, focusing brightly on my ginger mojito while trying to shuffle into a patch of shadow under the bar. On that lot of leg, there were two highly visible marks; two blatant bands of shame. Two discs that whispered nursing home; that grinned undersocialised spinster; that glanced at passing trends and ran screaming back to the hockey pitch in chagrin. Hubris utterly punctured, I stared miserably down at my shins, which were embossed with two neat, corrugated circles from too-recently abandoned socks. Yes, far from my mental picture of coltish cool, my knees looked like the lids on a couple of crimped short-crust pies.

The thing is, I love socks, even though real women really shouldn’t. Socks are for Father’s Day and mountaineers and plump thirty-something readers of chick lit who still buy four-packs of flower-print from M&S to wear with their bootcut jeans. True ladies should present at all times a sub-ankle zone of scrubbed and shining flesh, edged with a touch of toe cleavage, proffered on the altar of a Louboutin, and ever-ready to be sucked. In extreme winters gone by, we might have acceptably been allowed to resort to a wisp of sexily seamed silk; but in our peep-toe shoe-boot era, even stockings must surrender to a perennial set of bare, peach-tipped phalanges on permanent display.

Bollocks to that. When you’re a thin-skinned female and your brain shuts down the moment a mild breeze passes over your feet, a good pair of socks are more powerful, more glorious, than any twenty-tog parka. I love them all, from the self-abnegating scratch of a pair of grey wool schoolgirl knee-highs, to the condom-like cunning of pop-socks, to the snug, slightly fluffy medium-weight reliability of Gap’s men’s basics in black. A pair hand-knitted for me by a family friend, in woodsmanly charcoal and white marl, are so beloved that I’ve ruinously stretched shoes in order to squash them in.

Now, it seems cruel to play favourites with the myriad stalwart protectors of my circulation and sanity, but the new kids in the drawer – a pair of 100% silk liners from Patra – have disproportionate toasting powers for things so thin and soft and are light enough not to mark my calves. However, I’m having second thoughts about the fashion politics of imprinted tibia. In a season when Chanel are going crazy for trompe l’oeil tattoos, could body embossing be the perfect way to out-couture couture?

So. If she says she wants something special for Valentines, you know just what to get.

Vershinin's coat

On Planet Fashion, war always looks hot. Every season is military season, with a minute but profound differentiating 'take', which for SS10 is martial-luxe: the Somme as styled by Marie Antoinette. See Marc Jacobs's flirty, fluffy mini-crini under crisp utility green, below; Balmain's tasselled sequin-and-satin soldier boy; Rag & Bone's slippy sloppy layers in shades of pistachio ice-cream; and Louis Vuitton's sleek caramel cargos shod with moustaches worthy of any Russian colonel - all in all, a softcore corps with added shine. Marc Jacobs SS10: I'm, like, totally about to give the Spartan battle cry

Unfortunately, Anton Chekhov spoiled me for military. Every season, I scour the catwalk livestreams and images for my own battle-scarred grail, and fail.  Aged sixteen, cast as Vershinin in our girls-school Three Sisters by sole virtue of my six foot height, I wore the most beautiful original, nineteenth century, moss-green, floor-length, gold-buttoned coat, with the inimitable old wool smell of wet dog and homesick despair.  It was probably the reason I went into theatre, and it is certainly the reason I spend hours wading through the unloved furs and wee-stained tweeds of Portobello and Spitalfields searching for a flash of faded verdigris.

Thanks to that blissful term of unchecked melodrama and misguided public acclaim, I also feel rather proprietorial about the play, and unnecessarily critical of productions I see. Even so, I could find little to dislike in Filter's delicious Three Sisters, just opened at the Lyric Hammersmith and directed by its new-ish and reliably fresh AD Sean Holmes. As John Peter pointed out in his four-star review for The Times, this is Christopher Hampton's 'version' of the play rather than Chekhov's, but Hampton's bald, crisp, and very funny text restores the nimbleness, humour and sexiness to a playwright whose works are too often interpreted by the English as morose and moping chamber pieces.

Here, brooding repression becomes instant and exuberant expression. From quicksilver Irina to sharp-tongued snob Natasha to borderline-autistic Andrey, everyone is unselfconsciously transparent and endearingly thin-skinned. Even Masha, the bruised-hearted contemplator, is played with lovely openness by Romola Garai. She tries to keep her cool, posing in her dark, masculine tailoring, but cannot help stomping around like a tortured teen, every longing etched on her palely glowing face. Poppy Miller is a heartbreaking Olga. Although frequently played with brittle bossiness, the eldest sister is one of the most sympathetic female roles Chekhov wrote, and Miller portrays a very real, warm woman who is trying to protect both her family and her own few carefully stockpiled scraps of hope.

And Vershinin? Well, for once, you can easily see how Masha could fall for John Lightbody's virile, hirsute, hair-tossing, chest-beating soliloquiser; an easy, charming schoolboy compared to her husband Koolyghin's goofily supplicating schoolmaster.

There are missteps. With a bit of a reputation following their riotous dance of a Twelfth Night, Filter evidently feel they need to do some clever, surprising things, such as speak bits of text into random microphones, and blast bizarre medleys of crap pop in between scenes. They don't. The immediacy of the acting and lack of sentiment in the production makes everything as clever and surprising as it needs to be.

And the fun retro-modern costuming avoided unnecessary reminders of my teenaged wardrobe apogee; which are in any case less painful now I've discovered Baptiste Viry's SS10 accessories range. No perfect coats for sure, but some belts and hats I'd go to Moscow and back for.

Anyway, go see.

The perfect foundation

So you don your satin cone-bra Gaultier overalls, scoop your hair in a Wolff and Descourtis for Liberty’s scarf, and then, um, dig a hole?

You’re right. Not that kind of foundation. Although the architectural and the cosmetic varieties do share common dangers – slippage, subsidence, cracks – and teenaged girls across the world do tend to approach the application of their daily slap with the zeal, and accuracy, of a concrete mixer. However, beyond age sixteen, most of us – excepting American news anchors, air hostesses and beauty counter reps, who favour glossy, sandstone-hued, impermeably statuesque façades – live in terror of painting an inch thick, and highlighting our wattle with overenthusiastic daub. We want barely-legal-bare-faced-skipping-through-a-golden-cloud-of-dew, and we’ll pay top dollar to get it.

But it’s difficult to be rational about foundation. It’s the smell of your mother’s face. The feel of your best friend’s cheek. The soft, fragrant waft of powder at the bottom of your grandmother’s handbag. We get seduced by names – warm glow, summer sand – and textures. Once it evolved past its arsenic and Pan Cake roots, foundation got seriously sensual. It can be as unctuously creamy as a dollop of Jersey double, as waxily sliding as the crust on a honeycomb, as ethereally filmy as the caster sugar on a macaroon. You know that irritating woman, blocking the Selfridges aisle, methodically smearing little smudges of D&G’s overpriced finest on the back of her hand just for the joy of the smear? That’s me.

So when I went for a trial of Bare Minerals, loose powder mineral make-up “so pure you can sleep in it”, I got excited as soon as I watched the girl lay out her priestly cornucopia of implements and pots. The brand injunction to “swirl, tap and buff” was repeated like some sacred mantra throughout the multi-step ritual (fingers – vitamin primer, big brush – foundation as concealer, big brush – foundation as foundation, medium brush -highlighter, medium brush – blusher, virgin sacrifice, very big brush – mineral veil). Ease and speed and one-blob-does-alls are touted as the foundation holy grails, but I’m an old-fashioned broad. I like enamel crucibles and silver lids and goat hair brushes and anything that makes my morning face-time akin to a tea ceremony. In that still, sweet post-waking limbo, I like to evoke the feminine pleasures of a well-stocked armoire, not the brusque efficiency of an armoury.

Oh, and Oprah-esque testimonials and shrieking straplines aside, Bare Minerals actually works. It is the only foundation that can reliably make me barely-legal-bare-faced-skipping-through-a-golden-cloud-of-dew-alike, even if the hidden truth is a mess of morning-after-the-martinis-before-purple-eyes, yellow weals and red nose.

Perfect. Now where’s my spade?

The perfect watch

Watches are inherently masculine.

Oh yes they are.

The manifestation of a linear worldview captured behind glass, they are professional compartmentalisers: consistent, relentless, cruel little timelords that delight in their power to divide and conquer the day. Ever since a huddle of mechanical-minded fifteenth-century German geeks invented the mainspring and miniaturised the clock, men have taken particular and perverse pride in strapping aggressively functional chronographs to their wrists, as if to demonstrate the truth that their day job photoshopping food porn in a flock-wallpapered media agency in Shoreditch doesn’t preclude them from the sudden requirement to rescue a nuclear warhead from a bunker 20,000 feet under the sea before trekking across the desert without a map, nipping into space to dispose of it safely, and then swaggering into a cocktail party at precisely 23:59:09.

As any man will tell you, time works differently in the female realm. Our universe is the very definition of relativity. Years drop away at our command so that we’re permanently thirty-three. Breakfast can start at 8am and continue til lunch, depending on the GI of our carbs. If you’re late, you’re late (even if you’re not) because we’ve decided that you need to realise that your failure to hang out the washing last night was but the tip of your iceberg of chilly disrespect for our much-abused selves. So, faced with the resolutely functional dictatorship of the watch, we subvert (although sadly not always in style). We don uselessly decorative wrist-baubles, illegibly minimalist or maximalist so as to prove that time is but our irrelevant plaything, ignored at whim.

OK, OK, so some of us females are actually high functioning, punctual, left-brained amateur astronauts who love nothing more than a expertly engineered wrist-toy, an orderly appointment book and the occasional nuclear-busting scuba dive, but you can’t deny that a big black rubberised penis-replacement on your arm looks just as stupid as a kitsch Paul & Joe diamanté-eyed kitty-clock. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, so you’d better look damn hot in the meantime, and it’s difficult to find that perfect balance between male functionality and female elegance.

So I’ve done the searching for you. For Christmas, I’m getting a Rotary Les Originales Gents Gold-plated Case Watch, the perfect combination of reliable craftsmanship, gentleman’s-club androgyny, and lots of shiny sparkly gold.

Pity about the diving, though, as it’s only splash-proof. Damn. Suppose I’ll have to sit by the fire with a snowbumbletini instead.

 

The perfect lipstick

Upon the cold marble floor stands a dark brown wooden table, heart height. Upon the tabletop, its varnish scarred with rings, sits a half-eaten chocolate in a piece of silver foil, a man’s topaz cufflink, and a squat smooth-sided tumbler with a caramel-tinted trickle of Old Fashioned still pooling oilily around the ice-cubes. And upon the tumbler? Ah, upon the tumbler shimmers a delicate, ephemeral crescent of veined waxy pink. Yes, upon the tumbler glows that urbane icon of sexual promise: the lippy mark.

Some think lipstick is sexy because it perfects us, cloaking our flakes and wrinkles and age-denuded collagen with the plump sheen of ever-ready youth. These are the ladies (and sometimes gents) who lust after Lipstick Queen Poppy King’s pure-and-polished retro red-lip look, layering on the matte like a steel-girdled desperate housewife. Who carefully brush on sheets of Mac for that Malibu Barbie look, or nail a cartoonish plastic pout with the help of Juicy Tubes. Who are so aware that they’ve just spent so much on their Guerlain Kiss Kiss that the eponymous act is the last thing on their agenda that night.

They’re wrong. Lipstick is sexy because carries the promise of its own destruction. Perilously fragile, it begs us to imagine the slip and the slide, the smear and the lick. It is the illicit pink collar ink-stamp. It is the feathered red rind around a bitten macaroon. It is the creep of colour at the side of a thoughtfully chewed lip, the blossoming patch of unadorned flesh where saliva penetrates pigment, the fragrant, wet little transfer left on the proferred cheek.

It is that press on the glass that says all things will pass but for now lets drink sugar and rye.

That isn’t to say you should aim for the tooth-smeared geography teacher effect, or indeed McQueen A/W09 ham-fisted clown couture. Certainly start off inside the lines; but then simply live, my dear. Embrace the fact that life is there to Pollock your facial Rothko. Just please avoid the mask-faced, air-kissing, ice-queen rigidity that so often afflicts a gloss-gobbed girl.

The objects of my affection have fluctuated through the years. Nars’ Christina – a glistening gold-shot berry – begs to be demolished like a child’s Christmas glitter kit. Chanel Hydrabase No 76 Sari Dore – a just-neon-enough, innocent flower-girl coral – aches to be licked off in the woods. But in the end it doesn’t matter what colour, texture or brand you prefer; it’s how you wear it that counts. And you must wear it with the foretaste of sex in your mouth, along with the wax.